When the special performance event slated for Saturday the 23rd of November in New York (aka the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary) sold out quickly, a second event was scheduled for the previous evening, both at the historic Town Hall just off Times Square. Friday’s performance acquired its own unique tone when Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer introduced several musical guests over the course of a two act performance nearly three hours in length, and also made the announcement that they’ve decided to move to New York from Boston.
Interestingly, long before they made this announcement, there was already an air about the evening that suggested that the couple felt quite at home and also a reflective quality to their conversations about their relationship. They seemed to be taking stock of the past five years in the wake of a rather frenetic year for both Gaiman and Palmer during which Gaiman embarked on his final US book tour, for The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and Palmer toured extensively. The most recent career announcement from Gaiman, that he’d be taking up a teaching position at Bard College, might have prompted fans to assume that he’d be spending more time in New York State, but the couple confirmed specifics on Friday, including a recently purchased house in the countryside and a hunt for a place in New York City itself.
For those who had attended “An Evening with Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer” events before, they would have noted some consistent elements in Gaiman’s readings and Palmer’s performances, but the extemporaneous nature of the near-vaudevillian events made the evening far from predictable. The number of special guests, including Meow Meow, Lance Horne, Claudia Gonson, and Kat Robichaud, may be down to holding the event in New York City, since fellow performers were in the right place at the right time to take part. Can we expect even more of this collaborative experience in the future given that Gaiman and Palmer will become locals? Palmer’s final words to the audience, that this would “hopefully not be the last time that we are all together in New York City” seemed to suggest this.
Gaiman and Palmer made their stage entrance with the fan favorite performance of “Making Whoopie” with each performing verses related to the husband and wife’s role respectively with Gaiman’s deadpan pauses about domestic responsibilities sparking whistles and applause from the audience.
Gaiman kicked off his readings with the popular poem “The Day the Saucer’s Came”, a piece which also contains plenty of comedic timing, as well as relationship themes as the person the poem addresses is accused of missing every apocalypse that could possibly happen to the planet because they are mooning over a phone call from a loved on that hasn’t come through as expected. On the eve of the Doctor Who anniversary, though, the line about the “arrival of the Time Machine day” stood out a little more than usual. Surely that’s the TARDIS.
Palmer explained that the reason they’ve been “getting on the road” again is simply to commemorate the release of their new album of the last “Evening with” tour, which was available at the show in both CD and vinyl. But the origin story of their tours, Gaiman explained, really lies in the events surrounding their marriage. At this point, the reflective tone broke in, a sense of looking back at how the two ended up together, and where they want to go as an artistic couple in the future.
Gaiman detailed the events leading up to their marriage, “basically eloping”, when the “morning of the night before” their wedding, friends quickly threw together a bachelorette party for Palmer and a bachelor party for Gaiman. Palmer’s party fizzled and she soon “escaped” but Gaiman was taken to what appeared to be a “brothel” in a residential area where he was instructed to take one dollar bills and ten dollar bills to pay the women there and give the password “eleven” to enter the abode. The tables were turned on Gaiman when he realized that this was, in fact, a “poetry brothel” with eleven women performing their favorite poems for him, joined by the truant Palmer at the end. Was this, essentially, the kernel of influence that led to their “Evening with” performances? At any rate, it resulted in Gaiman’s dream-like and eclectic poem, “The Rhyme Maidens”, which he read to the audience.
Gaiman received plenty of Twitter requests about what he should read at Friday’s event, but the stand out winner was, apparently, “In Relig Oran”, that deep and heavy poem about a murdered, resurrected, and re-buried saint hailing from the island of Iona. Oran’s message to the world from the afterlife, that “God is not what you imagine”, is laden with ambiguity and has a haunting quality of the highest order, so it’s no surprise that fans often ask Gaiman to revisit it.
Palmer’s performances were carefully planned, but as she sat down to perform, she commented “I had a plan. I just threw it all away”, to applause. That became the pattern for the evening as things became more impromptu, adding to the piquancy of the event. “We can do whatever we want”, she realized, and announced conspiratorially. And jumped into performing, “Coin Operated Boy” which was clearly a favorite for many in the audience. Palmer, who has been meeting with a number of journalists this week about the live performance events with Gaiman, had biography on her mind, and explained that citing influences on her work finally dug up an obvious element from her youth that had so far gone unnoticed by her: the impact of the writer Judy Blume, who taught her that you can “say anything you can think”.
Her song dedicated to Blume was built around references to characters and situations that dramatized youthful experiences in poignant ways, and her memorialization of characters made them perhaps even more “real” than actual human beings. A “highlight” of her life, Palmer said, was Blum hearing her song and tweeting her about it online. Gaiman’s only competing claim to Blum-related fame was that he had once lent her his leather jacket at an event on the West Coast in “chivalrous” fashion. Palmer, in fact, seemed awed by this, still in the grip of Blume fandom.
When Gaiman and Palmer reached the “lovey dovey” part of the evening, an exchange of poems from their early relationship (including an obsession with the British use of the term “waste paper basket”), Palmer said they’d been “talking a lot lately about how awkward” the beginning of their relationship was because she’d never encountered anyone like Gaiman before but that she’d “come around” to the “opinion” that it had to happen as it had in order for their relationship to be “as good as it is now”. Things seem to be coming full circle for Gaiman and Palmer as they enter a new era of working together through live performance.
Gaiman read his story, “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” aloud, about the difficulties of language and memory, attempting to “remember forward” and emblazon significant works of literature on the public consciousness through potentially extreme measures to stave off loss.
The evening’s first “surprise special guests” arrived, jumping between two scheduled performances elsewhere that evening, Lance Horne and cabaret singer Meow Meow (Melissa Madden Gray), who dominated the stage with a live action audience member as her microphone man and prop, and a duet with Palmer before running away to their waiting car to make their other show for the evening.
This was rapidly followed by a guest appearance from one of Palmer’s biggest influences, Claudia Gonson from the group The Magnetic Fields. This led to an interlude discussion about how that very morning Palmer had failed to realize the significance of Gaiman bumping into J.J. Abrams, and pulling him away, whereas Gaiman had failed to recognize the significance of his friendship with Gonson when introducing her to Palmer. And then there was another anecdote about Gaiman and Palmer’s first meeting at New York Comic Con when she didn’t realize the importance of Stan Lee who was with Gaiman at the time and simply said “Hi, how are you?” to the patriarch of comics. Gaiman, Palmer, and Gonson then performed a Magnetic Fields song in one of the most striking pieces of the evening.
When the couple came back from an intermission, Palmer laughed and said that lately they’ve been doing press interviews about what it’s like to work together on shows and they’ve been commented on how much they’ve learned and how “wise we are now” only to spend the entire intermission arguing. That was a dose of reality for the audience and the friction created between creative types working together.
The “last special guest” of the evening created a particularly emotional interlude since the singer has been an immense fan of Amanda Palmer’s for quite some time and explained that she was quite awed to be on stage with Palmer in front of a live audience, unlike the screened performanced on The Voice, Kat Robichaud. There was plenty of hugging and the assurance that despite being voted off the show recently, she has “won” by performing in her own shows in New York and getting, finally, to meet and perform with one of her biggest idols in music, Palmer.
The Question and Answer segment of the evening, a tradition at “Evening with” performances, was cut shorter than usual due to the raft of special guests, but produced some amusing and quite personal results from Gaiman and Palmer. When Palmer was asked if she wakes up in the morning and thinks, “Holy Shit, I’m married to Neil Gaiman”, she said that coming from a different field than Gaiman meant that she sees him differently, thankfully, and isn’t as burdened by the weight of his popularity or career. She didn’t think he was a “big deal” when she met him, and has tried to hold onto that. That has “saved my ass”, she said. She doesn’t say to herself, she added, “Oh my God, I’m fucking Neil Gaiman”. At which point, Gaiman interjected and said, “That wasn’t the question”. This produced, of course, plenty of hilarity, and gave Palmer the idea of taking Sara Silverman’s song, “I’m Fucking Matt Damon”, and rephrasing it with Gaiman’s name. She promised she would do it “tomorrow” and spread it around.
Gaiman then read “The April Tale” from his collection A Calendar of Tales, featuring lots and lots of tricky ducks, who apparently don’t like socks. But when Palmer announced the show was drawing to a close, a fan shouted, “Stay forever”. This was the trigger that led to the big announcement (see our news item at Bleeding Cool) that Gaiman and Palmer had just purchased a house in upstate New York and were looking for a place in the city, too, so that Gaiman could be happy in his writing in the countryside and Palmer could also be happy in a city environment. The two are “finally making their way to New York City”, they said, hinting that it’s been a longterm goal for some years. This generated quite a buzz from the audience, who were fairly overjoyed to hear that some of their personal heroes would soon be local. And perhaps even be doing more New York based events.
Palmer broke out her ukelele again, and her departure with Gaiman from the stage was followed by an encore consisting of their Ben Folds-driven song “Joan of Arc” with Gaiman performing the necessary British accent to make the rhymes in the song lyrics work. As they signed off, because the clock had struck 11, making it nearly a three hour performance, Palmer got a little wistful looking out over the audience, and though she referred to their upcoming performance in the same location on Saturday night (when Gaiman is rumored to be reading his latest Doctor Who story), she said, “Hopefully this will not be the last time we are all together in New York City”.
Will there be more to come? It’s looking very likely. And no one in the audience had any complaints about that. They all ran to pick up the revamped event t-shirts on sale in the lobby and the album collection of previous live performances. These “Evening with” events, which started off as an interesting experiment, may well be the wave of the future for Gaiman, Palmer, and the special guests they can round up in the teeming artistic communities surrounding New York City.
Hannah Means-Shannon is Senior New York Correspondent at Bleeding Cool, writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org, and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress. Find her bio here.